Engineered Symbiosis, the Earth and Us

2 million years ago, something happened.

Something that would drastically change the way we interact with our environment, that would have an impact on everything surrounding us.

This dramatic change was technology.

Before that, every living organism was happily frolicking on planet Earth, enjoying a slow but steady evolutionary process through natural selection.

Random genetic mutations were happening all the time. Some of them would give you an edge (yeah, like the X-Men…), thus increasing your likelihood to survive. Living longer meant more possibilities to reproduce and pass on your mutations to your descendants, ultimately spreading it within the whole population.

Humankind and the millions of other species which constitute our environment evolved through that natural selection process. Our environment was always adapting to the impact each species had on it, and vice-versa. This is what we call “natural symbiosis”. This mutually beneficial relationship has been the norm for a solid 2 billion years.

That’s when technology waltzed in. Technology, which is etymologically the science of craft, gave humans a head-start in the race to evolution. A new mechanism adding up to natural selection to make us evolve faster.

It started with simple tools made out of stone. Then, about 1 million years ago now, we learnt to control fire, then we crafted tools over a series of industrial revolutions in past centuries, and then, finally, the advent of AI and genetic engineering. (Well, that escalated quickly…)

From Symbiosis to Parasitism…

Of course, thanks to technology, our evolution curb was getting pretty steep. In the meantime, our environment has still been evolving through the same old natural selection mechanism, much slower than us.

The perfect balance of “natural symbiosis” was quickly upset. At some point, our environment could no longer adapt to our rapidly increasing impact.

Our interaction with our planet then shifted to parasitism, a relationship in which “one benefits at the expense of the other”.

And so we became parasites to our environment.

Proof of this is sadly piling up. Last year alone we used almost twice the amount of resources produced by our planet to sustain our population, bringing Earth Overshoot Day closer every year.

What is now referred to as the 6th global extinction seems to be underway, and we are changing the climate at an unprecedented speed. Nowadays, when we talk about nature, we tend to foolishly pit it against humanity as if it were separate and one could live without the other.

Yeah, it all seems pretty gloomy.
To break this downward cycle, we see three main options to choose from.

Scenario 1: let’s just go back to being cavemen and cavewomen, hunter-gatherers all over again.

Scenario 2: the human population goes through a steep decrease or “degrowth” — either voluntarily, or involuntarily.

Scenario 3: we fix it. Technology, which created this gap between us and our environment, now has the power to help us close this gap.

We opt for the latter. And want to hear the good news? This shift has already started.

…And back again

In the last thirty years or so, innovation mainly rhymed with internet, computing power and mobile. Today, new and powerful technologies that we call “deep tech” are emerging. We believe that those technologies are on the way to restoring the balance between us and our environment, leading us back to an era of symbiosis.

Not the natural symbiosis of old, mind you, but a new kind of symbiosis that we call “ENGINEERED SYMBIOSIS”. Symbiosis enabled by technology.

You have heard a lot about artificial intelligence or blockchain. Maybe also about gene sequencing or synthetic biology?

Well, those deep technologies have the potential to change entire industries. Turning this potential into concrete solutions is the crux of what we do at Hello Tomorrow.

Let us explain a bit more about this “engineered symbiosis”. 
We used to have a perfect balance because both us and our environment were adapting to each other at the same pace through natural selection. Technology disrupted that balance, and our impact grew exponentially, leaving our environment in the dust, unable to cope with that speed. We are living at the expense of our environment right now.

But technology, which has been responsible in its early phase — until today — for the rupture of the co-evolution with our environment, is now the main driver for the recovery of this symbiosis. Indeed many deeptech solutions are reducing the impact we have on our environment all the while boosting our planet’s capacity to restore itself and to adapt to our impact. In the end, we reach again a situation where technology enables the environment to adapt to a smaller impact of our species, and here we are, back in symbiosis, but enabled by technology this time.

Through our Global Startup Challenge, we see a lot of companies that are the perfect example of this engineered symbiosis, be it in the way we eat, we test our drugs, plant trees or power our cars. And transforming this massive potential of deeptech into concrete solution is all we do at Hello Tomorrow!

What do you think? Let’s start the conversation at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit on March 14–15, 2019 in Paris. Grab your tickets here!